For backgrounds on the characters played in this campaign, look here~
After the trials and ordeals the party had faced during their first week of exposure to the Desolation, together it was decided that some time would be spent to rest, recuperate and prepare for what was yet to come. In order to further bolster the group’s presence, an effort was commenced to erect a more permanent basis of operations near to the Camp–and with directed labor to construct forms and ferry mud, Anselme began to utilize druidic magic in order to fashion walls of stone for a fortified foundation.
Within the Camp, Pandora began operating the boarding house while electing Grokzug the goblin as her chef de jour–a decision others found somewhat dubious. Meryk began to see to the fletching and fashioning of a variety of special arrows for future forays into the unknown odds while Emma endeavored to learn new techniques with Tapani back in the group’s gradually forming base. At the center of this new ‘stronghold’ to be, Anselme called upon the powers of nature in order to fashion a grove of respite–furthering the party’s accommodations.
Back in the Camp, Brother Vang attended the embassy and sojourned upon divine magics, contemplating deeply and re-assessing what he expected may provide the largest boons for his companions–all the while awaiting the arrival of the clergy dispatched from Vigil, that Sir Martimus might be saved. Several trips to the Celestial Emporium were made to spend newly acquired wealth, gathering further supplies and magical effects to bolster the party’s capabilities; the most notable among the lot was a set of magic mantles which would allow Brother Vang to coordinate his divine magics from a greater distance among his fellows.
Cassandra made the acquaintance of a new arrival in the Celestial Emporium–Aisha Khaleya, a fellow native of Katapesh and a self-professed cyphermage with a penchant for riddles and enigmas. The pair partook in pesh while discussing their place of origin–during which Aisha conveyed that the mysterious Pactmasters had taken a bizarre and sudden interest in the affairs surrounding Tsar–further adding to the tide of pursuing parties. After a warm exchange at length, Aisha provided Cassandra with a dweomer sigil at a not insubstantial discount while noting an interest in accompanying a party in the future.
Over the course of three days as preparations and matters were attended, the party began to review their available avenues of pursuit: Anselme still held word from the green faith about a splinter sect of druids out in the Ashen Wastes, Asharru had left a lingering offer to foray into the dead fields and the group still had Zantric’s lead to the dwarves in pursuit of King Kroma’s remains.
As well, Gurg’s portentous greeting of the party to the Camp spake of the fate of the northward-bound caravan his company had guarded–and it is to this regard that the group decided to turn their attention under the notion it might offer them a more economic opportunity. While Meryk and Emma scoured the area for additional materials for use back in their own encampment, Brother Vang began to pursue more information regarding the missing caravan and–alongside Cassandra–came to visit the hermit in the Camp, where a beleaguered fellow named Sammar had elected to stay.
Sammar spoke of faring from Taldor, a representative of the interests there–and that the caravan had been intended to establish a foothold further to the north, potentially to refit and resupply both the efforts of the Shining Crusade at the cusp of the Worldwound and to further a foundation in the Desolation before such. Considerable losses were assumed of the caravan, both in personnel and goods–but Sammar implored the party to recover any survivors and wares and insisted that Taldor would not be scant with a reward for such efforts. Anselme, ever the economist, was skeptical of the man’s lack of specifics in the amount of said reward–but ultimately the party capitulated, enlisted in Sammar’s cause.
With a new focus ascertained, the party began to ready for setting out–deciding to wait until the following day first, that Sir Martimus’ fate could be reviewed before heading out. Brother Vang sought out Pandora to retrieve her from her boarding house–only to be caught up along the way by the half-orc Captain Clantock. The Captain had been heard of during the party’s initial introductions among the Camp–and he alongside his ‘Furious Fourteen’ were available for hire as a mercenary escort.
Citing the upcoming expedition planned in search of the missing caravan, Captain Clantock delivered a very thorough sales pitch to a somewhat bewildered Brother Vang before the cleric excused himself to commiserate with his fellows on the matter. In the meantime, Pandora had received her first customers at the boarding house–an ensemble of would-be adventurers who appeared fairly out of their element, comprised of a retired watch sergeant, a blacksmith, a musician, nun and pugilist.
As the five ‘adventurers’ began to gather information and rumors from Pandora, Brother Vang arrived to relate the party’s plans–with Meryk not far behind. Together, the trio regarded the newcomers with wary uncertainty–before deciding that their own experience with the Desolation suggested ill fortune for the five. Meryk attempted to dissuade them from their course while Brother Vang discussed Captain Clantock’s proposed services; after deliberation, Brother Vang instructed the five to meet at the Camp commons the following morning–before making his way back to the Furious Fourteen.
Rather than hire Captain Clantock’s services for his own fellows, Brother Vang provided the mercenary with a sizable sum of iron bits and requested that he keep the newcomers safe–to show them a sample of the dangers the Desolation has to offer–and to attempt to dissuade them from further committal to exploring the wastes. Captain Clantock seemed rather pleased with the handsome sum provided and on the morrow, Brother Vang found the Furious Fourteen departing from the Camp with the five new arrivals en tow.
With this matter settled, Brother Vang waited with those at the embassy until the envoys from Vigil emerged to speak with him; Brother Vang was told that Sir Martimus might yet be saved and redeemed, but that in order to do so it would be necessary to recover that which the knight had lost and that which had been taken from him by the source of his affliction. This, it was surmised, was most likely to be found within the reaches of the temple-city of Tsar itself. Though momentarily sullen, Brother Vang found this to be an encouraging development nevertheless–and was given then Sir Martimus’ helm in thanks from the lost knight.
Together the group gathered, electing to pay for Gurg to accompany them as well and serve as a guide after much negotiation to rouse the hill giant from his drunken stupor at the Sip of Blood Tavern; setting out along the northward road the party made swift progress through the early morning and afternoon–passing the crossroads and making headway until nearing the reaches of the Chaos Rift at last.
A breach served as barrier for further progress–a gap which had been formed in the terrain across which a bridge had spanned; here however the party found the bridge had been destroyed, its remnants burned. When Pandora made to sprint and leap across the gap left in the wake of the bridge she was snatched out of the air by a pyrohydra and drawn down into the chasm! Working quickly, the drow freed herself from the creature’s grasp while Emma and the others descended to her rescue; though the fiendish creature was able to wound Emma, it was swiftly dispatched–having most thoroughly bitten off more than it could chew.
Further north the party traveled until coming upon a scene of carnage–clearly the remnants of the missing caravan, with a total tally of twenty-three dead humans and eight dead ogres, the lot of them burned, clawed and seared with acid in equal measure. Among the remains the party discovered a slime crawler munching contentedly upon a body; the group shooed the creature away before allowing it one of the horses–a concession which seemed to please the crawler considerably.
At first, the party waited for a time expectant of a return from the gargoyles of which Gurg had spoke before; when this did not come, they considered setting a lure of some sort which would prove more noticeable. Reasoning that the bodies if left as they lay might animate due to the deathly nature of the Desolation, the party elected to burn them collectively–hoping in part that the smoke might attract interest from the gargoyles. This also proved unsuccessful–and so ultimately the party decided to venture out eastward and make their way nearer to the cliffs of the Chaos Rift.
Following along the cliff-tops, the party began to navigate the northern perimeter of the Chaos Rift; much of the terrain traversed dropped off more than six-hundred feet–and lacking any magics to fly, the group was most wary about the prospect of attempting to descend. Instead, hoping to spy a potential aerie for the gargoyles, the party continued to scout along with Anselme taking to the sky in the form of an Eagle to further broaden their scope.
Suddenly, silence hung over the party–and before most could react, many became gripped with magical paralysis. From afar, a Nabasu demon attacked; as the group scrambled to move free from the silence, Meryk swiftly took up a firing position while Anselme took to charging the aggressor himself. After taking several arrows from the inquisitor, the demon ripped the bow from his hands with telekinesis before–under further assault at range by the party–teleporting away to fight another day.
Before long, night began to descend and so the party shored up once more within a shelter of webbing; only a few hours into the first watch, Emma and Pandora came under assault by several allips–the apparitions catching them with their maddening babbles before robbing the barbarian of her sanity with a few incorporeal caresses. Once the alarm was raised, Anselme and Meryk roused and emerged along with Brother Vang–the spirits dispatched before Emma was recovered.
Following this first incident, yet wary, the party attempted to rest once more–only to have a terrible bone storm rise unexpectedly. Powdered bonemeal and detritus assaulted the encampment and Pandora began to choke on the noxious material before Anselme hastened to provide pockets of protective air about both she and his fellows. Though the web shelter was obliterated, the party was able to weather the freak storm before recreating their accommodations again.
Later in the evening, weary and tired–Pandora doubly so after her marathon of wakefulness–wraiths arose from within the Chaos Rift to attack the camp once more. Cursing the danger of their environment, Emma sprang to the attack as once again Meryk and the others were stirred within the shelter. Attacked from multiple sides, the wraiths assailed those without–before one emerged within the shelter, devastating Cassandra with its deathly touch. Gurg, roused by the commotion, hoisted and repositioned the sorceress away from the apparition–yet the wraith pursued her.
In a moment of heroics, Brother Vang bore the brunt of a blow from the wraith which would have surely slain Cassandra–before Meryk was able to discorporate the spirit. Outside the shelter, the battle stretched on–so long that the attention of further wraiths was drawn, joining the ongoing encounter; by now the group had emerged fully from the shelter to focus their attacks and magics on dispatching the remaining wraiths–but not before many were rendered weakened by their draining touch. Weakened, the party retired for what little remained of the evening–anxious for the coming sunrise more than ever.
Fortune found well enough that no further encounters were had during the night; on the following morning, the party began to proceed along the northern cliffs of the Chaos Rift once more, making their way around as Anselme again took to the skies for a better vantage. For some seven miles the group traveled, beginning to find scraps and remnants of the victims of the great calamity which had formed the rift so long ago; by mid-afternoon however a pair of winged figures approached the party, recognized to be margoyles–scouts, no doubt, curious about the passerby.
Much to the chagrin of the margoyles, they discovered too late that the party was scarcely another caravan; in a rapid assault both margoyles were grounded, pounced and pelted before driven deep into unconsciousness. Acting quickly, the group stabilized their aggressors and bound them before bringing them conscious once more that they might glean information from their mis-fortunate foes.
Though the grotesque pair proved recalcitrant at first, with promises of freedom and mercy alike slowly but surely one of the two was convinced to share a modicum of information. Insisting that the attack on the caravan had been the act of the ‘other’ gargoyles to the south, the margoyle suggested the party might seek out a lift–the operators of which could assist them in reaching the lower level of the rift.
Satisfied enough with their information gleaned, the party charted a rough course around the northeastern reaches of the chaos rift and hastened their new march–reasoning that they could rest once at the sight of such and perhaps fare better among any encounters. Several hours and miles after leaving the margoyles behind, the sun had set and once again the party pressed through the darkened night; here, another apparition arose–this time a specter–taking the party by surprise. While the spirit lent powerful negative energies, it too was soon put to more permanent rest almost as swiftly as it had arrived–serving to further hasten the group’s march as they traversed through the night.
Past the brink of midnight, an air of dread seemed to descend over the Desolation as the party marched alongside cliffs even still; nothing stirred and an eerie stillness hung, disconcerting. As the group navigated among the farthest reaches of the Chaos Rift from the Camp, a strange sight was held–a box canyon, far below, littered with statues of numerous humanoids and other creatures before trailing off into a cavernous recess. Observing carefully, no signs of movement were discerned.
With the other denizens of the Desolation seemingly avoiding the place, a decision was made to descend when a more manageable section of the cliff was discovered–and so the group cautiously made their way down into the canyon, hoping that they might take to the caves to camp for the remainder of the evening. Working in pairs, the party lowered down from the cliffs until all were gathered and rallied at the canyon floor.
However, no sooner had the party regrouped than calamity had struck: Cassandra, Anselme, Gurg, Leone and Pandora were immediately petrified with a single sweep of a fiendish greater basilisk’s gaze–the abyssal monstrosity revealing itself from a staggeringly well-hidden position before attacking those still standing! Uproarious panic swept between the remaining adventurers, with Emma charging to engage the beast while Meryk loosed a first volley of arrows–slowly beginning his fierce rotation of divine effects.
After only three draws of his bowstring however, Meryk stood a statue as well–while Brother Vang and Pandora, the last to stand, could feel themselves narrowly escape a similar fate. Brother Vang lowered the visor of the helmet bequeathed to him by Sir Martimus–thereafter shielding him from the creature’s gaze–yet as he struggled to bring respite to Emma’s growing number of wounds, the situation was grim.
Through fiendish power the basilisk was able to skirt past Emma’s steely veneer, to seize upon the good within her heart and strike her true; though the barbarian was immensely resilient, Emma’s strength was swiftly beginning to falter as she hammered the fiercest blows she could muster against the basilisk–and yet still it stood despite such.
Both barbarian and basilisk alike were bloodied and battered–and though Brother Vang strove to sustain her, Emma was finally felled. Beneath a moonlit sky the inheritor crusader stood poised as the last one standing–and with Emma grievously wounded, Brother Vang had only seconds to act before she would expire.
Seizing the initiative and drawing deep upon his divine magics, Brother Vang formed a Spear of Purity in a stroke of desperation and hurled it at his abyssal foe; a crack echoed out across the canyon as that golden light struck upon the fiend with a flash. Through the fiend’s resistance to magic the lucent attack penetrated–and to Brother Vang’s exultation, he could see the beast’s eyes grow dim as it was blinded by the blow!
With a triumphant cry Brother Vang strode forth and lashed out with his crusader’s sword–striking the blinded basilisk and felling it with a final blow, the cleric’s second greater basilisk slain! Thus, with only moments to spare, Brother Vang was able to stabilize Emma before the pair hastened to gather up the blood of the dead basilisk to begin to coat their petrified companions. As well, Brother Vang has sufficient magic reserves to restore a single comrade to flesh again–yet between both resources, only four could be returned.
Faced with a difficult decision and greatly weakened, the group’s gaze turned further in the canyon; surely the abyssal creature was the master of this lair–and so, the party planned to proceed deeper that they might rest, unaware of what still lurked within that dark recess…